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ECB norms eased further

BS Reporters in New Delhi | October 23, 2008 09:33 IST

The Reserve Bank of India [Get Quote] on Wednesday threw open overseas borrowing norms by allowing companies to borrow up to $500 million for rupee expenditure under the automatic route for permissible end uses.

The list of end use includes investments in the industrial sector, foreign direct investment in joint ventures or 100 per cent subsidiaries, first-stage acquisition of shares in disinvestment and open offers as well as micro-lending to self-help
groups by NGOs.

Existing restrictions on using rupee funds for investment in capital markets, real estate or inter-corporate lending continue to remain in force.

The requirement of a minimum average maturity period of seven years for loans of more than $100 million for rupee expenditure by infrastructure sector firms has also been done away with.

This is the latest in a series of steps taken by the central bank to ease the liquidity crunch faced by companies, thanks to the financial crisis arising out of sub-prime mortgage lending in the US.

This is the third time in two months that external commercial norms have been revised to improve the access of Indian
companies to overseas funds.

In another crucial change, borrowers, who were hitherto required to park the funds overseas until actual deployment in India, have now been granted the flexibility to remit the funds to India for credit to their rupee accounts with banks in the country, pending utilisation.

This is expected to increase liquidity in the banking system as well as support the Indian currency, which has weakened against the dollar to below Rs 49.

With the banking system overseas under strain, Indian companies were keen to repatriate their overseas borrowings into India. Companies are also keen to capitalise on the fast depreciating Indian rupee.

In a late night announcement, RBI also raised the interest ceiling by 100 basis points to 200 basis points for loans of between three and five years and by 150 basis points to 500 basis points for loans of up to seven years.

This has been done in view of the tight liquidity conditions in international financial markets. The central bank also said the all-in-cost ceilings will be reviewed in the future, depending on conditions in the international financial markets.

In addition, RBI has also allowed telecom companies to raise funds overseas to acquire third-generation mobile licences.

The auction of 3G spectrum, which is scheduled for later this year, is expected to raise at least Rs 40,000 crore (Rs 400 billion) for the exchequer and help bridge the fiscal deficit.

"This move will act as an enabler to the timely conduct of 3G auctions in the country." Manoj Kohli, CEO and joint
managing director, Bharti Airtel [Get Quote] said.

The changes come into effect immediately.

"It is a big policy change. The ECB route has been thrown completely wide open. After this, no major restrictions on overseas borrowings remain," a finance ministry official said.

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